The opportunities to secure employment dwindle post-admission as a legal practitioner

March 1st, 2023

LLB degree graduates who are fortunate enough to secure practical vocational training (PVT) contracts for themselves, undergo rigorous training to ensure they can protect the legal interests of their clients, and to ensure that they have the capacity to apply the law correctly and appropriately.

All candidate legal practitioners are required to undergo two years of PVT in order to be admitted as a legal practitioner. This experience allows candidate legal practitioners the opportunity to walk in the shoes of a qualified legal practitioner.

By law, these graduates must undergo this experience through the supervision and guidance of their principals, as well with the staff associated with the law firm. This is a special type of employment relationship as it functions as a mentor/mentee partnership.

The purpose of this mentorship programme is to ensure that candidate legal practitioners are fit and proper to practice.

Through the journey of becoming a qualified legal practitioner the experience gained by a candidate legal practitioner forms a significant, extensive, and resourceful foundation towards building their legal career.

On completion of their PVT contract and becoming admitted as a legal practitioner, many legal practitioners are encountering a conundrum when securing employment post-admission.

Although employers have their own criteria for employing their preferred candidates who meet all their requirements, newly admitted legal practitioners are placed at a disadvantage because most employers turn a blind eye to them because they lack the number of years of experience post-admission.

In light of the above, the job experience requirement appears to outweigh the current and potential capabilities of newly admitted legal practitioners.

Potential candidates for a vacancy are disregarded based solely on the requirement of a minimum of three to five years post-admission experience, although the said candidate has undergone such a rigorous process of PVT. This is a disservice to newly qualified legal practitioners.

Consequently, we are living in a world that is forever changing and adapting as the COVID-19 pandemic has explicitly shown us.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic worsened the dilemma because the chances of newly admitted legal practitioners being retained is gradually becoming less and securing job opportunities is becoming scarce, which is contributing to youth unemployment.

Through the experience of job hunting online, this task has become so tedious, financially taxing and time consuming because the advertised vacancies require a specific number of years of experience post PVT, which one cannot acquire immediately post-admission, if not retained at a firm.

In considering the above dilemma, what possible solutions do we have to overcome this youth unemployment among newly qualified legal practitioners?

In light of the above, these are the possible solutions:

  • Firstly, the potential candidate’s curriculum vitae and credentials are the first points of reference. It is noteworthy that every individual possesses unique attributes and value to offer a firm and/or organisation, especially when working with clients to provide a valuable service. For example, to name a few, it is important to highlight whether an individual can build rapport with people, the manner in which they carry themselves is vital, the manner in which they speak and interact with their colleagues and counterparts, their ability to be innovative, and their assertiveness to take a lead role in certain circumstances.
  • Secondly, the interview stage is the second point of reference, which allows the employer to observe whether the potential candidate’s skills, knowledge, personality, and character are all suitable for the advertised vacancy.
  • Thirdly, the probation period and work integrated training is the third point of reference. This occurs following the interview stage being completed, and the employer having made the job offer and the suitable candidate having accepted the offer.

During this period, the chosen candidate is orientated and inducted in the workplace systems and on the other hand, it is a significant yardstick for the employer to measure and determine the capabilities, work ethic, and suitability for the position as a newly qualified legal practitioner.

Therefore, considering the above, the experience requirement cannot be the only factor for judgment that disregards potential candidates from securing job employment.

Contrary to popular belief most established legal practitioners who own their own law firms were given job opportunities by their seniors in the legal profession to prove themselves worthy of building their careers. Consequently, established legal practitioners should give more thought to providing similar help to upcoming legal professionals who have a youthful perspective to contribute to the legal profession.

It is important that employers and employees adopt the stance of open-mindedness and utilise the principal of ongoing learning and growth. Despite the number of years of experience obtained post-admission by newly qualified legal practitioners, generally people are teachable.

Moreover, the question arises, how are newly qualified legal practitioners supposed to acquire the required experience if employers are not affording them the opportunity to prove themselves. Is the PVT requirement as a candidate attorney insufficient to render one experienced enough to secure a job opportunity in legal practice?

As a result of this requirement, many professionals in the legal industry have been forced to seek other avenues to secure permanent job positions by exploring opportunities overseas. This demand is gradually resulting in South Africa losing highly skilled professionals to other countries who have better opportunities to offer. Furthermore, young highly skilled legal professionals are leaving the legal profession to explore other avenues with better opportunities.

Fortunately, I have had to explore the option of creating a job for myself by starting my own legal consulting company due to the scarcity of job employment and not meeting the number of years of experience requirement. Due to this dilemma and the high unemployment rate, some newly admitted attorneys are brave enough to take the risk of open their own law firms to begin their post-admission journey. However, many newly qualified legal professionals are not as fortunate enough to become entrepreneurs and create job opportunities for themselves.

Considering the above, providing young legal professionals the opportunity to build their careers contributes to their professional development, which will empower them with skills and knowledge needed to lead a team within a firm and/organisation. Furthermore, it will enhance their professional reputation, thus attracting newly admitted attorneys in a firm and/or organisation is vital.

As stated, the number of years of job experience requirement is not a valid justification to disregard potentially brilliant legal practitioners.

Boitumelo Moshugi LLB (UFS) is a legal practitioner in Johannesburg.

This article was first published in De Rebus in 2023 (March) DR 35.